praise for
days of naze
one does what one can with what one has

days of  
n a z e  

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

strung out 
brush with greatness 
soul food  
 


 

An obnoxiously large

(101k .wav) audio greeting

from the Author.

November 22, 1998   
    

Men I Admire: John Hayden

Flaming red hair encircles the balding dome; big black frames sit on the proud nose, windowing the eyes that blaze wide or narrow piercingly.

The pocket protector is loaded and heavy with an array of educational implements. Polished low boots click on the hard classroom tiles. Drawing his telescoping pointer from the arsenal, he extends it, strides to frontstage center of the classroom, arches an eyebrow and then through a wicked grin: "Voluntaire ou victime?"

Meet Mr. Hayden, a.k.a. John P. Hayden, the man who taught me more about life and writing and art than anyone I've known.

Mr. Hayden got his bachelors at Middlebury College and masters at the University of Paris...and he just happened to teach at a high school in, of all places, Scappoose, Oregon.

It hadn't begun all that auspiciously. I wasn't a particularly studious pupil in French I. Language acquisition takes immersion or committed practice; the former wasn't available and I lacked the fire for the latter. I could spell pretty well and had o.k. diction for a French infant, but that's about it. At an awards assembly, I hadn't been paying attention when my friends told me my name had just been called. Mr. Hayden always used the original Belgian pronunciation of my name "nah-ZAY" and had just done so to award me a French/English dictionary with the inscription "prix honoraire".

On the wall behind his desk, directly above his chair hung an enormous poster portrait of Napoleon (detail from a famous tableau) that glared down upon us. Hayden declared, "Grand hommes avez grand nez!", ("Great men have great noses!") which given mine, of course, endeared him to me forever.

The best thing about French class (besides the cursing) were the excursions. We hopped a bus into Portland to catch a funky French comedy (The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, I believe) at Cinema 21, a little art film house with a union projectionist; 'twas my introduction to foreign films.

We pushed Haribo (isn't that a great name for making Gummi Bears sound like contraband?) to raise money to defray the sizable bill for dinner at L'Auberge. I ordered the "chicken in hellfire". I mean, how could you not?

Mr. Hayden is a good language teacher, but his true gifts lie elsewhere. And I would have missed them entirely if not for the advice of a smart, ambitious upperclassman. Debbie was taking his Advanced Composition course and convinced me that he was the guy who could teach me how to write. It was the best advice I ever got.

Precis was the core of his teaching. Say it in the least possible number of words required to convey the idea. Slash and hack away relentlessly at the excess and you will be understood, cogent, eloquent. (There was some car, a Mazda I believe, that took the name Precis. They had a commercial where they massacred the pronunciation saying PREEsis. Agh!)

He loved Mike Royko's writing (he wrote op-ed stuff for the Chicago Tribune(?) for ages) and described it as having been written with acid on sandpaper. To learn precis, he had us take newspaper articles 500 words long and rewrite them into 25. The natural response is horror. How can you do this to a perfectly good story?! But at some moment in the repetition of that exercise, the horror turns to delight. And when you get it right it's like uncovering it's essence, it's core.

That first writing class was the gateway to the real deal, a course called Honors English in the high school catalog and World Literature at Portland State University, but would have been more fittingly described with the title of Douglas Adam's book "Life, the Universe and Everything".

He basically tricked you into liking the classics. Somewhere near the beginning he started us on Boccaccio's "Decameron", which was brilliant given the fact that it is a series of tales of social disintegration and fornication in the time of the Black Plague. That's a helluva combination for horny teenagers. I mean, there was an actual menage a trois on, of all pages, page 69.

Smutty poetry? Yeah, we got that. John Donne's The Flea teases with simile, plays through on the amorous nudge and then pays off with the grossout. But it's not that short a hop from Donne to Shakespeare sonnets and then to poetic meter. In tribute to his oral exams at the University of Paris, he required memorization of this little guide and tested us through individual recitation.

Swift's "Modest Proposal", Macbeth, Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" -- always there was the story behind the story, the setting, the context. And that's where Mr. Hayden shone. Following a reading of Wilfred Owen's Dulce Et Decorum Est (an experience I will never forget), he spoke of his time in the service and of the human cost of war.

And that was the class: Take handfuls of literature, add impressionable youths, knead thoroughly, bake with a wise, passionate chef and watch it rise.

One time I needed a lift to Portland (where he lived at the time)and got a ride in his enormous Checker, which was once an actual taxi cab. We're talking major geek chic well before it's time.

As Spring break approached we were running a bit behind. He gave us the choice of taking the mid-term now or of taking it home and mailing it in halfway through the vacation. We foolishly chose the take home. My family was headed to Santa Rosa, California. I hadn't seen my second cousins in over four years. It turns out I wouldn't see them much anyway. I locked myself away for most of the stay furiously scribbling out my essay answers as Joan Jett's brand spanking new "I Love Rock & Roll" blasted from cuz's stereo.

I finished the accursed take home test in a bath tub in a hotel room in Vallejo at about 2 a.m. It was the only place I could go without keeping everyone else awake. This was the kind of effort that he inspired.

I called him a couple of years later from college in a panic. I was on the spot for a graded poetry reading (Kipling) and he coached me through it. Four years later, upon completing my illustrious (cough, choke) college career, I sent him a commencement announcement thanking him for all he had done for me.

I went to visit him in person two years ago. It was depressing. The usually clear-headed Oregon electorate had recently voted to do away with the ruling that allowed teachers to accrue paid sick days. Teachers, like Mr. Hayden, had a choice. Retire now under the existing rules or stay on and lose, what was in his case, a considerable sum of money in accrued sick leave.

This after twenty plus years of exemplary teaching; he justifiably felt betrayed.

It was not a good time in his life. He had had run-ins with parents who thought their kids deserved a free pass because of their IQ scores. And to top it off, some of his family were going through some pretty tough stuff.

I listened. Part of my reason for coming to see him was to impress upon him my gratitude. He had to get back to class. "I want to thank you for everything you've done for me." I don't think the words penetrated; he wasn't in a good space to hear me.

So here's my second try:

Mr. Hayden, you took a bunch of kids and showed them there's a great big world out there. Helped them to take their torrent of ideas and emotions and channel them into theses, arguments, expression.

Words can't really communicate the gratitude. And the irony is not lost on me.

   

p.s.  So far, no one has been killed by the new days notification list. Really, people, it's not that scary...

p.p.s. Welcome to my regular visitors at MIT and General Electric and to my first visitors from the United Arab Emirates and my homeland, Norway.

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last

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previously on days of naze: 

occupational hazard
i blame them
brilliant mistake
pleasure victim 
the stupid rules 
driven to distraction 
my corner of the planet 
spawn apologist 
broken 
clench 
interview with a madman 
an introduction 
 launch 

what have you done for me lately?
my "
brag sheet", fun with audio.

May you never be more active than  
when you are doing nothing.  

-Cato

in the feedbag: 
 
film: Pleasantville; It's hard not to hate a movie with this name, but I didn't. Quite the opposite. I also saw Touch of Evil and One True Thing. Pleasantville (it's not about the Fifties) was by far the best.

book: Nicholas & Alexandra by Robert Massie; Gregory Rasputin getting lots of action with the ladies of the Russian nobility. Crude, grasping, smelly, hypnotic eyes -- maybe I should change my technique...

sport: Oh, man! My #15 Ducks just lost to unranked Oregon State in double overtime. Damn these 102 year old rivalries!

music: The Portland Youth Philharmonic. An old acquaintance, Maria Schleuning, and fellow alum kicked butt on the Barber Violin Concerto. Huw later led the orchestra on a great romp through Beethoven #4 and was flying high on adrenaline afterwards. I love this game.

     

   stupid    strung out   naze   brush   soul food 

     

e-mail We few, we happy few...  
     

  

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